Road America: Corvette Racing race report

Corvette Racing Takes Podium Finish at the Road America 500; Fellows and O'Connell claim team's 34th consecutive podium finish. Elkhart Lake, Wis. -- The General Motors Chevrolet Corvette Racing team claimed its 34th consecutive podium finish...

Corvette Racing Takes Podium Finish at the Road America 500; Fellows and O'Connell claim team's 34th consecutive podium finish.

Elkhart Lake, Wis. -- The General Motors Chevrolet Corvette Racing team claimed its 34th consecutive podium finish on Sunday with an impressive showing at the Road America 500 in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell, driving the #3 Compuware Corvette C5-R, collected the second place finish in the GTS class, fifth overall, after overcoming a variety of challenges during the 2-hour, 45-minute race. The podium finish maintains Corvette's position at the top of the manufacturer, team and driver championships in the GTS class of the American Le Mans Series for 2003.

"The team worked through its fair share of adversity in the race and can stand proud of today's accomplishments," said Harry Turner, GM's group manager for Road Racing. "I'm very proud that Chevrolet has a driver like Johnny O'Connell -- he stayed in the car for twice the usual time and really proved he's a top-notch athlete. It's disappointing for us as a team in not winning but at the end of the day we're proud that we gave it our best shot. Our next race at Laguna Seca will be quite a battle."

The Corvette Racing team ran quickly from the start of the weekend, consistently posting the fastest times in test and practice sessions; Chevrolet factory driver Oliver Gavin, in the #4 Compuware Corvette C5-R, shattered the qualifying record by nearly two seconds on Saturday afternoon with his time of 2:01:969. After starting from the second position in class, the #3 Corvette C5-R of Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell ran quickly and captured the lead after a quick pit stop near the two hour mark into the race. O'Connell piloted the Chevy through two straight driving stints, a remarkable feat given the hot temperatures on the track and inside the car. When the checkered flag dropped, O'Connell captured the second position in class, fifth overall, after fighting tooth and nail with the #80 Ferrari of Jan Magnussen, his former teammate. Gavin and teammate Kelly Collins, in the sister #4 Corvette C5-R, started Sunday's race from the first position in class, 11th overall, and were leading with a healthy margin until the 40 minutes mark, when Gavin was given a stop-and-go penalty for passing under a local yellow flag. After a pit stop shortly thereafter, Kelly Collins took over control of the #4 Corvette and was gaining time on the leading cars when he experienced trouble downshifting and went off the course. The incident sent the Chevrolet to the back of the field; the team displayed their resolve as the #4 Corvette climbed back to finish fifth in class, ninth overall.

"This sort of racing is great for the sport, if you want to find the silver lining in an otherwise cloudy day," said Doug Fehan, GM's program manager for Corvette Racing. "I am quite impressed with how our team worked this weekend -- we shattered the qualifying record by two seconds with a chassis we'd never raced before and were able to overcome a few unfortunate penalties and mishaps to finish on the podium. This is the kind of race that gets the team fired up and keeps us moving on."

Johnny O'Connell, who led a significant portion of Sunday's race in his #3 Corvette C5-R, reported that conditions were difficult under the hot August sun.

"It was so hot today and became a real battle to maintain focus and control at the end of the race," said O'Connell. "We would have liked to have won but Ron and I are looking at the bigger picture in terms of winning the drivers' championship, and we are all working for Chevrolet to win the manufacturers' crown. We've gotten closer to that goal with today's podium and we'll be ready for another great race in two weeks."

Kelly Collins, driving the #4 Corvette C5-R, won last year's inaugural ALMS event at Road America with teammate Andy Pilgrim. His fifth-place finish on Sunday was an unfortunate result for a day that began on the GTS pole position, but Collins and teammate Oliver Gavin had the responsibility of driving a brand new chassis, usually reserved for the team's test sessions, for the first time in formal competition.

"I believe that I grabbed one gear too many as I downshifted," said Collins. "That was all it took to lock the rear tires and it sent the car into an oversteer at Turn 14. I thought it might have been possible to keep the car on the track as I got sideways but unfortunately I went into the sand. Remarkably the crew was able to clean out all that debris and the Corvette ran perfectly even after all that. Traffic was heavy throughout the rest of my stint and we did the best we could to claw back. Oliver and I are looking for a better result at Laguna Seca."

The Corvette Racing team will take to the track again in two week's time, for Round 7 of the American Le Mans Series at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California.

-gm racing-

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